Doubts over regime cut across all demographics

Kang Mi Jin  |  2016-11-16 16:07
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The number of North Korean defectors entering South Korea, which had been in decline since Kim Jong Un took power, has slightly risen in 2016. The total number now exceeds 30,000. The fact that the number of defectors is increasing despite enhanced surveillance efforts along the border region suggests that the regime's strategy to maintain power through fearpolitik is now reaching its limits.

Even individuals categorized by the regime as core loyalists have been choosing to defect. Following the defection of a group of overseas restaurant workers in April, the family of Thae Yong Ho, the former North Korean diplomatic minister to Britain, entered South Korea in August. There have also been internal reports that ranking officials belonging to state institutions including the State Security Department are considering defection. This phenomenon indicates that unlike in the past when the 'subsistence issue' was the primary motivating factor for defection, the 'political cause' is becoming increasingly more common.

According to Daily NKs sources inside North Korea, some officials in North Korea are suffering from chronic anxiety due to unpredictable purges, executions, and mandatory relocations ordered by the Kim Jong Un regime. It has been reported that some officials are under severe stress and even suffering from insomnia due to the ever-lingering threat of punishment.

Furthermore, a number of officials in North Korea have become disillusioned with the escalating reign of terror that has followed the execution of Jang Song Thaek, the uncle of Kim Jong Un. A Daily NK source in North Hamgyong Province reported on November 13 that "some of the officials say there is no guarantee anyone can avoid being the target of punishment if even his [Kim Jong Uns] uncle has been executed."

Defections by ranking officials are expected to increase due to a rebellious sentiment being stoked by frequent purges for even trivial mistakes. "Defecting officials are motivated by the excessive punishments they are subjected to," the source surmised.

"Residents are discreetly commenting that officials may be executed unless they follow orders to the letter, while criticizing the rising number of defections, saying, 'Its a sign that the nation is doomed'," the source added.

The regime's fixation on idolization work taking priority over all other matters is also being pointed out as a contributing factor to the rising number of defections. Government officials are now losing faith in a leader who is evidently uninterested in the future development of the nation.

An official with the Ryanggang Provincial People's Committee said, "Tremendous amounts of foreign currency have been spent on building statues [of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il] across the country. Government officials, as well as the citizens, have lost faith in the regime, watching it pour money into shoring up its own legitimacy while neglecting to provide for its citizens.

Cycle of corruption

The source also reported that even State Security Department agents in charge of surveillance and suppression of defections are showing leniency toward such behavior in exchange for bribes.

According to the source, these security agents have been recently ordered to take strong measures such as intensified surveillance on the families of the defectors in order to prevent mass defections. But in reality, the agents are using the circumstances as an opportunity to line their own pockets with bribes.

"It is becoming common practice among security agents in the border areas to identify families of defectors and extort money from them when they are caught speaking on the phone to their defector family member in South Korea. The agents submit falsified reports to the ministry stating that such acts are part of a 'decoy operation involving the family of the defector,' while secretly taking bribes from them," a separate source in Ryanggang Province reported on November 12. 

The security agents are even reportedly informing residents that "when you are caught by other monitoring agents while making a call to South Korea, just say that you were told by us to deliberately make that call. The agents will then report to the authorities that the incident was indeed part of an operation to persuade the defectors to return.

"These actions are resorted to by security agents who cannot support their own livelihoods on government salaries and rations," the source noted.

"Although the authorities publicly state that defectors are 'national traitors' and 'dangerous elements' threatening North Korea, many are actually claiming that defectors are patriots, effectively feeding many people back home, including the security agents," a source in North Hamgyong Province added. 

"An increasing number of people are saying that defectors are smart, with some of them adding that they may also consider defection when there is a chance.

*Translated by Yejie Kim
*Edited by Lee Farrand

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